Lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury was dropped in the third round and had his hands full with a mixed martial arts fighter making his professional boxing debut.
Fury won a split decision by scores of 96-93, 95-94 and 94-95, but former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou clearly won the night.
The crowd at the lavish new Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was chanting Ngannou’s name in the final minutes of the 10th round in appreciation of his amazing performance.
Ngannou dropped Fury hard with a left hook in the third round and looked like a legitimate heavyweight contender throughout, not a guy who was a 14-1 underdog.
Yahoo Sports had it 95-94 for Fury.
Ngannou looked no worse than recent Fury opponents like Derek Chisora and Dillian Whyte. Many MMA fighters have looked out of place in boxing matches, but Ngannou looked as comfortable in a boxing ring as he did in the Octagon in MMA.
“I’m feeling great; I’m feeling happy,” Ngannou said. “I feel fantastic and I’m very happy. It didn’t go my way.”
Fury had already signed for a bout for the undisputed heavyweight title on Dec. 23 against Oleksandr Usyk before he met Ngannou. He dropped Fury with a crunching left hook in the third, cut him on the forehead and bloodied his nose and mouth.
Fury, who weighed 277.2 pounds, looked as if he was gassed as the fighters went down the stretch.
“He was a good fighter, Francis, and he hit me with some good punches,” Fury said. “He’s a good fighter.”
Fury said he would give Ngannou a rematch but said he would face Usyk before facing Ngannou again.
Ngannou looked as if he could compete on a regular basis in the heavyweight division, though he had some rough edges. But Ngannou, who dreamed as a child of becoming a boxer because he read about former undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, showed he’s no pushover.
He’s signed with the Professional Fighter’s League and will expect to compete in that league next year. But he can clearly make an impact in boxing.